Science: How to Free Fossils

Donald G. MacVicar Jr., 21-year-old Amherst senior and chemistry major, got the idea in a college bull session. After he tested it in the laboratory, MacVicar decided he had the answer to a problem that has long puzzled professional paleontologists: how to separate certain delicate, prehistoric fossils from the limestone in which they are embedded.

The most commonly used methods for freeing fossils are risky. Acid, for instance, dissolves limestone, but it also destroys many types of fossils. Some grades of stone can be scaled away with the flame of a blow torch, but this method is limited and difficult. Other...

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